Laramie’ spotlights acceptance

November 12, 2010

by Ali Kokot for the Daily Pennsylvanian

Friday, November 12, 2010 at 2:03 am

In the fight against the hate crimes that still occur in America, The Laramie Project aims to pioneer a powerful movement of education by telling the tragic story of Matthew Shepard’s murder.

Created by the Tectonic Theater Project, The Laramie Project opened at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday. The show was preceded by a discussion with Matt Nosanchuk, the senior counselor to the assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and followed by a question-and-answer session with members of the cast.

The Laramie Project tells the story of Shepard’s death, from the moments before he was led away from a bar on Oct. 6, 1998 by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson to when he was found unconscious from having been brutally beaten and left to die, alone, tied to a fence.

But The Laramie Project also recounts the experiences of all who surrounded Shepard. The script is taken from a compilation of over 200 interviews of Laramie, Wyo. residents of every background, played by just a few actors who constantly switch roles and are supported by scant props so that the focus is truly on the story as told by all who witnessed it, and the effects of the event upon the community.

When members of the Tectonic Theater Project visited Laramie in the aftermath of the Shepard’s death, they found a town that had been “burned by the media,” cast member Greg Brody said.

Graduate School of Education student Lauren Walton said she was “captivated by the multitude of voices” and the fact that the story was told from “every viewpoint imaginable.”

In the pre-production talk, Nosanchuk praised the efforts of The Laramie Project in “eradicating hate” so that negative sentiments do not gain the potential to manifest themselves as hate crimes. This mirrors his work in spreading the word that there is new powerful legislation to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, enforced by the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, passed in October 2009.

College freshman Katie Gansler said “all students should be required to see this play, as it is only through education that future crimes can be prevented.”